What helps women lose weight again after having a baby?

Photo of a woman jogging
PantherMedia / Peter Bernik

After gaining weight in pregnancy, it's normal for women to only lose it gradually in the months following childbirth. Combining changes in diet with extra physical exercise can help them get back to their old weight again.

It's normal to put on weight during pregnancy. The extra weight is needed to help nourish the growing baby. Part of the weight is extra fluid in the woman’s body. In some women, the extra effort involved in breastfeeding and caring for a new baby are enough to make the gained weight melt away on its own. But it's not always that easy: Six months after giving birth, nearly half of all women still weigh more than they did before becoming pregnant.

Some women would like to lose weight because they simply don't feel happy with their figure. Most women gradually gain a little weight as they get older anyway – whether or not they have children. This will usually not cause any health problems. But if women who were a normal weight before becoming pregnant still weigh as much as they did at the end of pregnancy one year later, they might be more likely to have a weight problem in the long term. This might get worse in future pregnancies.

Preventing long-term weight problems

To avoid weight problems after having a baby, making sure you don't put on more weight in pregnancy than necessary – for your own health and your baby’s health – can help.

It's not always easy to lose weight after giving birth. Having a new baby can really turn your life upside down. Mothers sometimes change their eating habits or stop doing their usual sports activities as a result. This is one of the reasons why it can be hard to lose the extra weight gained in pregnancy.

The best way to lose weight is through combining a balanced diet with extra physical exercise. Programs that help people change their eating and lifestyle habits are used to try to achieve this.

Research on ways to lose weight after having a baby

Researchers from an international research network called the looked for studies that could help determine the best, and most gentle, way to lose weight after giving birth. They analyzed the results of twelve studies that looked at various measures and programs to help women lose weight after having a baby. A total of 900 women took part in the studies. There were problems with the quality of some of the studies, though, which limits the reliability of their findings.

The programs that were looked at in the studies included:

  • a mothers’ walking group with baby carriages or strollers
  • weight-loss group meetings for women, with cooking demonstrations and information about eating habits, as well as a focus on awareness of their own eating behavior and ways in which to get more exercise in their everyday lives, and
  • low-calorie or low-fat diets, with or without an exercise program.

Most of the programs started one or two months after the women had given birth. Some lasted a few weeks, and others lasted up to a year. A few of the programs were very intensive, with several meetings per week.

The outcome

Exercise programs or changes in diet weren’t particularly effective on their own. Women lost the most weight if they changed their diet and also took part in an exercise program. Expressed in numbers:

  • 20 out of 100 women who did not follow a special program managed to reach their pre-pregnancy weight again, compared to 40 out of 100 women who followed a program combining dietary changes and exercise.
  • Most of the women in the studies lost weight even if they did not follow a special program, but those who took part in a combination program lost two kilograms more on average.

Because only about 260 women took part in the studies that looked at programs combining dietary changes with exercise, these results can only give us a rough idea of how effective the programs are.

The researchers concluded that combining dietary changes with physical exercise can help women lose weight after having a baby. Changes in diet weren't found to have any disadvantages affecting breastfeeding.

Amorim Adegboye AR, Linne YM. Diet or exercise, or both, for weight reduction in women after childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013; (7): CD005627.

Nascimento SL, Pudwell J, Surita FG, Adamo KB, Smith GN. The effect of physical exercise strategies on weight loss in postpartum women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Obes 2014; 38(5): 626-635.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Updated on March 22, 2018
Next planned update: 2021

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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